Utah students might soon have to take math their senior year of high school if state education leaders adopt recommendations unveiled Friday.
For more than a year, a State Office of Education Mathematics Steering Committee has been trying to come up with ways to improve math education in the state. On Friday, they revealed a long list of recommendations.
Among them: Make students take math their senior year of high school in order to eliminate a gap in their learning. Now students are required to take three years of math between ninth and 12th grades to graduate. Under the recommendation, they would still need three years but one of those years would have to be during senior year.
"If you don't use a skill or knowledge you have it's difficult to build on it," said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent. "We can tell if there's been a gap in their learning time, and it's becoming more and more clear that gap is a major part of the gap when they head to college."
Nearly one of five students who entered Utah public colleges and universities right after high school in 2007 had to take remedial classes in college, according to the Utah System of Higher Education.
Aubrey Wood, a senior at Jordan High, said Friday she thinks it's a "really great idea." She said she didn't take math her junior year and it's been hard to get back into the subject this year.
She said she'd probably be "totally lost" in college math if she weren't taking a math class this year.
"I think it will really help me," she said of her class this year.
Other students see it differently. Granger High senior Sam Lipscomb said she wouldn't want to be forced to take math this year; she'd rather choose classes more relevant to her career goal of becoming a mechanic, she said.
"The idea itself isn't bad, but I believe we should have more of a choice," Lipscomb said. "I wouldn't want to be forced to take math when I could be taking an automotive class instead."
Hales said the State Board of Education will likely look more closely at the recommendations in coming months before deciding whether to adopt them. She said if the board were to adopt the recommendation, she's not yet sure how and when it might be phased into high schools.
She said the steering committee began its work about a year and a half ago because of concerns at the state level over Utah's math achievement. In 2009, less than half of American Indian, black and Latino students tested on-grade level on state math tests. And on the ACT in 2009, Utah students, on average, didn't score well enough to be considered ready for college-level math classes, according to a steering committee report.
"All the data is telling us we have a system problem that needs to be addressed," Hales said.
Other recommendations include re-examining whether the licensing exam for elementary teachers is mathematically rigorous enough; providing financial incentives for recruiting and retaining math teachers; and increasing counseling for parents and students, among other things.
Hales said she's hoping Utah can win federal Race to the Top money to help implement some of the changes. If the state doesn't win that money, she said, changes will likely be implemented more slowly.